October 23, 2014
At this year’s Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference we got to hear directly from the founder of Techstars, David Cohen, about how the accelerator and subsequent Demo Day aren’t your run-of-the-mill productions. On October 9, Techstars celebrated another class of startups, 13 in total, to successfully graduate and pitch at Demo Day in Boulder, Colorado.
There is almost an untapped energy around trying to make local businesses and startups successful: there are people who want to help and have ideas, but they might not know where to start. Bringing cohesion to this market is a huge value that Techstars brings the community.
According to Nicole Glaros, the Managing Director at Techstars, this is the difference between a laser beam and light bulb. That is, you can have all of the energy around entrepreneurs in the world, but not knowing how to focus it is a fatal flaw. The Techstars structure brings focus to this energy, and when you focus energy behind something it can be explosive.
I sat down with Glaros to get a more in depth look at Techstars, how they’re different from other accelerators, and how they maintain a continual level of excellence in the community.
Tech Cocktail: What separates Techstars, specifically your demo day, from other accelerator programs?
Nicole Glaros: Demo day isn’t just an event for companies to meet investors. Granted, that’s how it started but that’s not how it evolved. This is a celebration of entrepreneurship across the community focused on the hard work these companies have gone through. Understanding that there are all of those elements is critical to pulling off a successful demo day.
And then there are the little things: I invite the broader community and we play 30 second clips between ach pitch, highlighting the mentors and past startups that help make this program go. We try to embrace all aspects of what makes demo day important, what makes the community bond, and then bring all of that together.
Tech Cocktail: How did you get involved with Techstars?
Glaros: Techstars began officially in 2007, but I knew David Cohen before he started Techstars. I was with another incubator, and David saw it, thought it was interesting, but came in with a notion of how to do it better. I remember thinking: “Wow, this guy has the model figured out.”
I was already on my way out of the organization, and then I hopped on with another company. But when I left that second company I reached out to David directly and he said he was doing this thing called Techstars. I went and hung out for a bit, jumping on board as a mentor and volunteer in late 2008, and then in early 2009 he said: “Can I pay you to do this?”
I helped with the launch of Boston, Seattle, and then moved to Texas to help there. Bottom line is that I’ve been around for a while and I’ve seen it grow and evolve.
Tech Cocktail: How do you maintain such a high level of excellence at Techstars?
Glaros: I’m constantly experimenting. I did 3 or 4 random experiments this year alone to see how they’d work out. The worst thing any organization, any company, can do is to sit back on your heels – that’s how you die. I understand that entrepreneurs are constantly meeting the needs of an ever changing marketplace: I’m constantly changing.
I make it widely known through my company that I’m unbelievable open to feedback, especially negative feedback. I actually don’t like positive feedback. I can’t improve or get better if people are telling me great job. Because I created this environment of trust the people will come to me and tell me this or that sucks and why. I’m open to it and fixing it, and that’s how we’re constantly getting better. It’s a constant dedication to excellence and the only way I can be excellent is getting constant feedback from my company.
I want to win. Not at all costs because what we’re doing is very community-focused here. But when I’m focused on the people and committed to providing them more than what they pay in equity, and I deliver on that promise, then they usually become a force of more community on the outside.
When people tell me it’s just business and it’s not personal, I never understand it. Everything is personal in the startup world. People are sacrificing relationships and mortgaging their houses. They’re putting an idea on the line for the world to critique – how is that not personal? When you understand the level of emotion the companies have and can match that dedication with your own then it creates a wonderful community.
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